Port Perry’s Kate Beirness says there’s only one word to describe her experience as she stepped onto the set at the TSN SportsCentre for the first time and watched the lights go on; “Surreal.”
After setting her sights on the ultimate goal of working as a sports anchor for TSN, this small-town girl from Port Perry says it was “absolutely thrilling” to finally get the opportunity to sit behind that famous desk.
“People may have bigger dreams, like ESPN,” she says, “but I’ve always dreamed of TSN. I wanted to be at the highest level in Canada.”
Always involved in sports throughout school, namely basketball at S.A Cawker and Port Perry High School, Kate set her sights on sports broadcasting after a torn ACL left her looking for a new career path.
“I always say it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she explains. “It led me straight to broadcasting - something I might never have done if I continued playing basketball.”
After high school, Kate headed off to study at the University of Ontario and, eager to gain some experience in the field, she became the announcer for college basketball games.
“I knew some of the athletic department staff,” she explains, before adding that she was able to get involved with campus radio in addition to game announcing, which helped to establish her passion for sports broadcasting.
During her third year of university, a friend suggested Kate volunteer with Rogers TV after he saw her obvious talent for sports announcing. She decided to give it a try and, almost immediately after starting her volunteer work with Rogers, she was handed a microphone and put in front of the camera.
“It was a dream come true,” she says. “I looked at the whole experience as a learning process. I wanted to absorb
everything I could.”
Kate says her work as a volunteer allowed her to reach the level of success she has now. “It was everything I needed. I always tell students that volunteering is the best thing you can do, it makes a world of difference,” she adds. After two years with Rogers TV Durham, she was hired on as a sports anchor and worked “on desk” for six months.
She continued her climb up the ‘corporate ladder’ by heading to Barrie to fulfill a position with A Channel as an anchor and videographer. Kate says it was a “demanding job” but “incredibly necessary,” especially in preparing her for her role at TSN.
With A Channel, she was involved in “everything and anything,” including shooting, writing, editing and reporting. The show was also shot live, which, at this point, was completely new for Kate. “It was an adjustment,” she explains. “Everything was taped ahead of time at Rogers, so there was an added pressure (at A Channel).”
In addition to adjusting to the live show, Kate says that her job with A Channel helped her understand how to interact with athletes and report on sports she was less familiar with. “It was always basketball, football, then hockey for me,” she says, referring to her favourite sports.
But when an assignment had her working closely with the Barrie Colts (Ontario Hockey League), she not only found a new appreciation for hockey but she also gained “a lot of experience for the NHL” – a feat that would greatly benefit her four months later when a call from TSN would change her life.
“They said they had seen me on TV and were interested,” she recalls. “And they asked if I would come down for an interview.”
When she arrrived, Kate was put through a 15 minute solo “SportsCentre” audition. Then, she recalls, “they brought in another achor to test and see if I could banter”, she laughs. Her skills with “bantering” proved to be impressive as, shortly after, she was hired as a sports anchor for the show.
Kate will never forget her first night onset when her co-anchor, James Cybulski, made an on-air comment that proved to her just how great the TSN work environment was. When the lights came up, the camera veered towards James and he said: ‘Port Perry is smiling tonight!’” Kate remembers fondly. “I just thought that was such a classy thing for him to do.”
Since that fateful day in December 2009, it is clear that Kate has been on a whirlwind of an adventure. Working with anchors she always idolized, she says she takes each day as a “new learning experience” and absorbs as much knowledge as she can.
And as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated role, Kate knew she would have to prove her place. “You’re under more of a microscope as a woman,” she explains. “There’s this assumption that men automatically know more. I always wanted to prove I know just as much as any guy!”
So how does Kate prepare for the task? “You have to know the sport inside out,” she says. “The backgrounds of players are so important and it’s a lot of repetition and memorization. There’s an expectation to know everything – every fact inside out,” she says. “So that’s where my academic skills have come in handy,” she adds, jokingly.
When asked about her future goals, Kate insists she is completely satisfied with where she is right now, and only hopes to stay. “It’s so nice to be at a spot where I feel good,” she says, adding that she no longer feels the need to move up in her field. This feeling of contentment is one she credits her co-workers for.
“We all love to do this and that’s the biggest difference about TSN. It’s an amazing environment,” she says. “People want to make an amazing sports show and no one is out to glorify themselves.”
Above all else, Kate says she can’t forget her upbringing in Port Perry, including her parents and teachers who encouraged her to thrive in all aspects of her life, whether it was sports, academics or her involvement in student council.
“My teachers were so supportive of everything,” she insists. “It’s where I got all my confidence. They pushed me in sports and in the end pushed me in life skills.”
And speaking of teachers, Kate’s mom (Chris Wagenaar) is a teacher/librarian at both Epsom and Greenbank Public Schools and her father (John Beirness) is a retired music and history teacher at Cartwright High School, who now teaches at Durham College.
“They are both amazing people who always taught me to work hard and never give up.” A lesson she obviously took to heart.
By Christina Coughlin
Focus on Scugog